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Location: Alabama, USA.

I have recently completed all coursework required for my degree, including a cluster in (name changed) Basketweaving. A cluster consists of 6 specified courses (it is essentially the same thing as a minor, however, due to legal/administrative reasons at the university, they cannot legally call it a minor). One of these courses (call it UB200, intro to underwater basketweaving, course name changed for privacy), I received a C in, which is a passing grade and a satisfaction as a prerequisite.

As this was the only C I received for my cluster, I found a form on the university website called a "Course Forgiveness form". This form states the following relevant points. There are others I can provide if requested, but I do not see their relevance to this post.

Students may forgive any three courses. provided that they are not required for their major (emphasis mine).

  • Any forgiven courses and the assigned grades remain on the transcript, but the grades are not calculated into the students cumulative grade point average.

  • Forgiveness is retroactive but must be done before graduation.

  • Forgiveness cannot be unforgiven.

The same relevant points were verbatim on the course forgiveness form that I signed and gave to the registrar. No additional points were added or stated in this form.

In short, this form allows for a student to have 3 grades removed from their GPA calculation, but the course remains on their transcript. I took advantage of this to have the grade for UB200 removed from my GPA calculation.

When it came time for my degree audit, I was informed that UB200 could not be used for ANY credit whatsoever. I appealed the decision, on the basis that the wording explicitly states that course forgiveness cannot be used for courses required for a major. It says nothing concerning a cluster or minor. I asked if an exception could be made to the policy due to the unclear wording, and I be allowed to "take back" the form and have the C reinstated on my transcript, and receive credit for the cluster. This too was denied.

My appeals have been escalated to the provost, and all appeals have been met with the same response: (paraphrased)

Your request to undo the course forgiveness has been denied.

When I talked to the provost concerning this, they explained that "they can't list EVERYTHING that the form applies or doesn't apply to, so I should have known what it meant."

I have asked each level to provide me a reference to any wording that explicitly states what they claim. They refuse to acknowledge the vague wording of the form, or provide a reference to an explanation of why the form also applies to my cluster. I have escalated this to the highest level at the university, and have been met with the same responses.

Due to their response of "we can't list everything that this applies to", I present Exhibit A: the pass/fail policy. This policy states the following:

A student is limited to 12 semester hours of credit on a P-F basis over the course of the degree. Courses listed on the Program of Study (major, minor, cognate, track, cluster, specialization, option and concentration) may not be taken P-F.

This policy explicitly spells out all types of awards/degrees. The inconsistency between this policy and the course forgiveness policy would seem to imply that the course forgiveness for credit policy explicitly applies to a major only.

I feel as though I am wronged. What type of lawyer (if any) would best be suited to help me pursue action against the university in order to receive credit for this? Is "you know what we mean" a valid argument from the university?

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    Is this a state school or private?
    – bdb484
    Aug 18 at 17:50
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    Typically the form would only have an unofficial summary of relevant information about forgiveness, and the full policy would be contained in the university's course catalog or similar document. Have you checked the catalog? If it says something like "no credit is awarded for forgiven courses", then your case is probably shot. Aug 18 at 17:58
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    Following up on Nate's point, does a forgiven course count towards the credits you need to graduate? In other words, does forgiveness have the same effect as dropping the course -- no grade or credit. PS If you look at your transcript, you should be able to tell whether you are getting the credits from the course. PS Nice question.
    – Just a guy
    Aug 18 at 18:08
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    Yeah, it seems to me that the point you're focusing on is not the most relevant one. The rules on the form seem to have been applied properly: the course was not required for your major, and so you were permitted to have it forgiven, and it was ignored in your GPA calculation, and everything else stated on the form happened. The issue is what wasn't stated on the form: can a forgiven course still be used to fulfill graduation requirements? You thought the answer was yes, the university intended the answer to be no. Aug 18 at 18:11
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    Normally the intended purpose of policies like "forgiveness" is that you have the course removed from your GPA, and then you take it again to earn the credit, or take some other course fulfilling the same requirements. It's more like a retroactive drop than anything. The exception for major-required courses is that they want your GPA to reflect all the work you did in major courses, even courses that you did poorly in and needed to retake. Aug 18 at 18:14
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The university gives you no reason to think that the statement "Students may forgive any three courses, provided that they are not required for their major" means "Students may forgive any three courses, provided that they are not used to satisfy any university requirements". They also clearly state that "Forgiveness cannot be unforgiven". The provost's statement that "Your request to undo the course forgiveness has been denied" is either non-responsive or indicates that someone messed up in handing him the complaint, since your petition was at least initially to enforce only the major-related restriction (rather than the revised unwritten version), and undoing forgiveness is as you know not possible. Thus the provost has not denied your appeal of the "follow your own rules" petition.

Insofar as nothing in the university documentation (at least that available online) indicates that this is the equivalent of dropping a course after the end of the class, and that everything indicates that this simply removes the specified courses from the computation of GPA, it's not reasonable to expect that a person could divine some other intention. But: as you noted, you also don't get credit for the class. So the rationale of denying you use of the course in satisfaction of the requirement is reasonable, what's not reasonable (in the ordinary sense of the word) is the conclusion that "they can't list EVERYTHING that the form applies or doesn't apply to" and that you "should have known what it meant". Your legal recourse would be to file a lawsuit. However, suing a university is sort of a last-resort action, since they didn't clearly violate the law. If you had been aware that you would not get credit for the course, you "should have known" (to use the legal phase) that the effectively-dropped course would not be usable for any purpose. You can argue in court that the university had a duty to inform you of these important procedural details which do not appear to be described anywhere. If you spoke to an advisor, the advisor would have been negligent in not telling you of this important information. So in theory, you could sue and get then to remedy the situation (most likely by reversing the forgiveness).

The main problem that you will face is that your petition and your appeal were considered, and it was found that you were not wronged. The courts generally accept the results of university-internal appeals systems, unless there is a clear violation of law or egregious departure from stated procedure.

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